How to Paint Cabinets

by Janet West

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Many days I stared at my scratched, varnished cabinets. My cabinets were wood and structurally sound, but worn. I longed for white, clean looking cabinets, but I didn't have the money to invest in new cabinets, and didn't know how long we would be living in that house. Who wants to spend a bundle of money on something which you can't get a good return. So, I studied the options.

  1. New cabinets
  2. New doors (probably wouldn't match)
  3. Remove the doors
  4. Living with it
  5. Re-varnishing
  6. Painting

These were the only ones I could come up with at the time. I decided to paint. Here is how I did it. This took me two weeks, while working part-time every day at my children's school. It isn't difficult, just messy.

I will assume in the following that you have paintable cabinets. Remember to ventilate by opening doors and windows. This is not for people with breathing problems, or pregnant women.

  • Take a picture of the "before" cabinets.
  • Go to your home product store. Talk to a live person with some experience. Tell them about your cabinets and what you wish to do.
  • Pick up a product called TSP. It is a chemical to strip the shine off varnished wood. Grab some rubber gloves while you are at it. Other supplies you will need are: primer, paint, brushes, roller, roller paint pan, extra roller pads, sand paper (course and fine), screwdriver for removing handles, and a paint drop cloth.
  • Related: Painting Tips, Tricks and Resources

  • For paint, I picked an off-white made for trim and baseboards. This paint had acrylic in it and was water based so it washed up easily. I am not endorsing brands, but don't skimp on this step. I used Dutch Boy Trim Paint.
  • When home I put on the gloves, mixed the TSP as the container instructed, and washed the surface of all the cabinets. This isn't the hardest part!
  • Remove all cabinet doors, handles, and hinges. Place these where you won't lose them, even if you are replacing you need them to locate some that will fit.
  • Place doors where you have plenty of space, preferably outside on sawhorses or something similar.
  • Sand all surfaces lightly. You should coarsely sand any imperfections, then finely sand.
  • Decide if you want to paint the insides of your cabinets. I did some of mine and it does look better.
  • Prime all surfaces to be painted. This is the messy part. Primer drips, so cover your good floors and counters. I used a roller for most areas. Grooves and small spaces required the brush. Either clean the brush and roller, or you can replace the pads and brush.
  • At this point, the cabinets look horrible and you're thinking, "What did I get myself into?"
  • Put on the first coat of paint. You should start to see an improvement now.
  • Put on the second coat of paint. Look for areas that need a touchup. They are there. Look for them.
  • Allow to cure (harden), before replacing dishes. Paint needs time to set so it will harden. The can should have these instructions, if not wait a day.
  • Take a picture and let everyone back into the kitchen.
  • Keep an amount of paint for touchups. Accidents and dents happen, even on new cabinets.

I am a mom and a part-time writer. I enjoy sharing and teaching my hobbies which include gardening, decorating, and the keeping of our zoo. Email Janet at

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